“Teaching of Mandarin as a 3rd language in national school will be a flop”

“Teaching of Mandarin as a 3rd language in national school will be a flop”


FORMER Utusan Malaysia senior editor Datuk Zaini Hassan’s suggestion to make Mandarin the third language in national school so that Malay and Indian parents need no longer send their kids to Chinese vernacular school may appear viable at the outset.

However, he has missed the point that learning a language cannot be done in a few classroom sessions in a week.

It involves an entire landscape where the language is used on a daily basis. For this reason, linguistic experts tell us that the best place to learn a language is to live in the society where the language is used.

I will share from my own experience being a pupil at a national school whereby Mandarin was taught as a third language.

Mandarin was the only subject in my primary school where my best score was a ‘D’. I cannot remember if it had pulled down my overall marks but I remained the top pupil.

My ability to speak Mandarin was picked up when I was as young as three to four years old. In fact, it is better than Cantonese or my mother tongue, Hokkien.

To make sure I did not follow her out, my mother would tell the maid to take me to the kitchen. As she spoke in Mandarin, she thought that I would not be able to understand what she said but she was absolutely wrong!

Therefore, if Zaini’s proposal is taken wholesale, it would deprive children the environment in which the learning of Mandarin can be achieved effectively. The importance of Mandarin cannot be underestimated as China becomes one of the world’s superpowers.

My children’s own experience

Despite being educated in national schools, my wife and I decided to send our children to a Chinese primary school. The objective was for them to learn Mandarin but we knew it was not easy as both parents are non-Mandarin literate. We were initially very happy with the school.

However, after the headmistress retired and a new one took over, we were flabbergasted with the way we were told to buy workbooks. My son who was in Standard 3 had 29 workbooks altogether, while another girl in Standard 5 had 43 workbooks!

We realised that, as parents, we were manipulated by the school to spend about RM200 every year for the different workbooks that the teachers said they would use in class. As a result, their bags were overloaded with books.

At the same time, children of some parents were being victimised by the headmistress. The officers at both the Education Ministry (MOE) and state education department failed to address many of the issues brought to their attention.

As a result, we saw that the rot in the education system had also gone into some of our best Chinese schools. If anything, that was the reason why a number of parents eventually placed their children in the private school system.


The real problems with our national school system is the way how politicians have meddled with the education system over 60 years. From being once the producer of top students in the Commonwealth, we are no longer producing the cream of the crop.

In order for school reforms to be effective, the government should:

  • Allow true-blue educators to design the school curriculum;
  • Protect the sanctity of education by keeping it away from the polemics of blinkered politicians;
  • Let the educators to do their job in guiding the children’s development;
  • Provide a conducive environment for children to become multi-lingual instead of restricting them only using English or the national language;
  • Provide an education pathway that the child finds most suitable and they can excel best – be it skills-based vocational education (TVET) or tertiary academic pursuits; and
  • Provide some forms of funding to international schools, private schools which adopt international syllabus and Chinese independent schools which have all become part of our education landscape.

Contrary to the polemics of politicians and quasi-politicians, Malaysians can be united regardless of race, religion, education background or wealth so long as politicians do not meddle with it. It is the politicians who destroy national unity.

Stephen Ng
Kuala Lumpur

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berita Perak.

Source: Focus Malaysia